Virginia's Northam proposes making Juneteenth an official holiday in Virginia

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Tuesday that he plans to make Juneteenth, the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, an official holiday in the state that was once the capital of the Confederacy.

Juneteenth, which is also called Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, is celebrated annually on June 19. Texas first made it a state holiday in 1980. The day would be a paid day off for all Virginia state employees.

Northam made the announcement on Tuesday during a press conference where he was joined by musician Pharrell Williams.

"This is a very special moment,” Williams said.


The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when news finally reached African Americans in Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to bring the news that slavery had been abolished, former slaves celebrated.

President Trump announced last week that he has rescheduled a campaign rally that was planned in Tulsa, Okla., on Juneteenth. The announcement of the rally had sparked an outcry because Tulsa was the site of one of the worst instances of racial violence in U.S. history in 1921, when hundreds of African Americans were massacred by a white mob that burned black-owned businesses and homes.

The move by Northam marks his latest move to distance his state from its Confederate past.

Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation scrapping Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday named after two Confederate generals, and a few weeks ago he announced that the state will remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s prominent Monument Avenue.


The statue in Richmond -- the former capital of the Confederacy -- has become a frequent target of vandalism during the protests, with demonstrators chanting “tear it down” on Tuesday. The Lee monument was erected in 1890, decades after the end of the Civil War.

The move by Northam comes amid turmoil across the nation and around the world over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25 after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes in moments captured on cellphone footage.

Floyd’s death has sparked protests and outrage over issues of racism and police brutality and prompted renewed calls for the removal of Confederate memorials across the country.

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been the target of vandalism during protests in recent days over Floyd's death. The base of it was covered with graffiti, including messages that say "end police brutality” and “stop white supremacy.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.